Iphicrates, c.418-353 BC

Iphicrates (c.418-353 BC) was an Athenian general who played a key part in the recovery of Athenian power in the aftermath of the Corinthian War, but who was less successful during the Social War, fought against Athens's own allies.

Iphicrates is most famous for improving the lightly armed peltasts. He is said to have increased the length of their weapons and reduced their armour, thus increasing both their offensive abilities and their mobility. He was also responsible for improving the Athenian fleet in the period before the outbreak of the Corinthian War. His force of peltasts was probably funded by money provided by the Persians in the aftermath of their naval victory over the Spartans at Cnidas (394 BC). The Persian fleet was commanded by the Athenian admiral Conon, and visited the Piraeus in 393.

Battles of the Corinthian War
Battles of the
Corinthian War

Iphicrates used the improved peltasts during the Corinthian War (395-387). They were unable to prevent the Spartan capture of Lechaeum, the port of Corinth, in 392 BC. The Spartans were let into the gap between the Long Walls connecting Corinth and the port and were then give time to dig in. The next day the defenders of Corinth attempted to push them out. Iphicrates and his men were placed on the right, near the east wall, facing a group of Corinthian exiles. This was a poor use of light troops, as they were unable to keep their distance from their heavily armoured opponents. They were chased all the way back to the city walls, before the exiles returned to the main battle.

After this setback Iphicrates campaigned against Phlious, a Spartan ally south-west of Corinth, worrying the locals so much that they allowed Spartan troops into their citadel for the first time. He then raided into Arcadia, although the details are lost.

His most famous victory came in 390. The Spartans had captured the port of Lechaeum, north of Corinth and were using it as a base. Iphicrates and his peltasts were based at Corinth at the time. The Spartan commander at Lechaeum had clearly become overconfident. When asked to escort a group of Spartan allies on the first leg of a journey home to celebrate a religious festival he split up his force, sending his cavalry on with the pilgrims, while his 600 infantry returned to base unescorted. Iphicrates and his peltasts attacked, and in a running battle the Spartans lost 250 hoplites. In the aftermath of this victory he went on to recapture Sidus and Crommyon, two places east of Corinth taken by the Spartans in 392.

In 390-389 Iphicrates appears to have been involved in an Athenian attempt to take control of Corinth, and he was asked to leave the area.

In c.389-388 Iphicrates was sent to deal with Anaxibius, a former Spartan navarch, who was successfully campaigning in the Troad and Hellespont. Probably in 388 Iphicrates led his men inland and ambused the Spartans while they were vulnerably stretched out on the march. Anaxibius was killed in the fighting and his men pursued for over ten miles, almost all the way back to Abydos.

In 387 Iphicrates besieged the Spartan stronghold at Abydos, but the siege was lifted by the Spartan diplomat and general Antalcidas, who was able to sneak into the town and rescue the Spartan ships blockaded there. The Spartans soon ended up with a sizable fleet blocking the sea routes from the Black Sea, a factor in the Athenian decision to accept peace terms (King's Peace or Peace of Antalcidas).

After the end of the Corinthian War, Iphicrates spent some time working as a mercenary commander in the Persian Empire, playing a part in the failed invasion of Egypt of 374/373, before returning to Athens. His arguments with the Persian satrap Pharnabazus helped contribute to the failure of the expedition.

Battles of the Theban-Spartan War, 379-371
Battles of the
Theban-Spartan War,
379-371 BC

After his return he successfully raised a Spartan siege of Corcyra (373 or 372), during the Theban-Spartan War (379-371). He remained in the west of the Peloponnese for some time, but was recalled when Athens decided to withdraw from the war.

Early in the period of Theban dominance that followed their famous victory at Leuctra (371 BC) the Thebans invaded the Peloponnese (369). This time the Athenians sided with the Spartans, and Iphicrates commanded a force that attempted ineffectually to interfere with the invasion.  

In 367-364 he made a series of attempts to recover Amphipolis in Thrace, but without success. During this period he helped expel the usurper pretender Pausanias, who had threatened the position of the young king of Macedon, Alexander II. Despite providing this aid, the Macedon regent Ptolemy of Alorus helped Amphipolis maintain its independence.

After this failure he found work with King Cotys of Thrace, fighting against Athens in the Thracian Chersonese (although he refused to attack any Athenian held towns). Cotys was his father-in-law, and he had just been replaced as commander of the expedition against Amphipolis, so his actions are understandable.

He was pardoned for this and was given a command in the Social War (357-55), a war between Athens and the members of the Second Athenian League. He was one of four commanders of the Athenian fleet defeated at Embata (357). Chares, the fourth of the commanders, had the other three put on trial. Iphicrates was acquitted after making a fine speech in his own defence (and entering the court with his sword in full view and a group of bodyguards), but died soon afterwards (or at least before 348 BC).

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (15 December 2015), Iphicrates, c.418-353 BC , http://www.historyofwar.org/articles/people_iphicrates.html

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